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5 Dec 2002 : Column 936Wcontinued
Mr. Leslie: Part M of the Building Regulations was amended in 1999 to require reasonable provision for access for disabled people to visit friends and family in new homes. All new homes built in England and Wales on the basis of building control applications submitted after 25 October 1999 have had to comply with the new requirements. Currently, these do not require the installation of showers with level access. The various Parts of the Building Regulations are however kept under review.
Some social housing funding authorities require, in addition, compliance with the Lifetime Homes standards promoted by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which is a charitable organisation. The Lifetime Homes programme aims to produce homes that are suitable for fully independent living by disabled people, and principally by wheelchair users. The Lifetime Homes Standard however only calls for drainage provision to enable a shower to be fitted in the future.
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Mrs. Roche: The project to update the Indices of Deprivation 2000 is being conducted in three stages. The Stage One Consultation Report has recently been published. Stage Two will result in a blueprint setting out detailed proposals for updating the indicators and domains while Stage Three will result in the updated Index. It is expected that the final updated index would be published in summer 2003.
(3) what research has been undertaken to ascertain the extra costs falling upon local authorities from new towns designed on the Radburn principle. 
Mr. McNulty: In its response to the recent Select Committee report on New Towns, the Government undertook that, subject to Office of the Deputy Prime Minister funding, a review would be undertaken. This would examine a number of aspects of the New Towns, which would include all the issues mentioned by my hon. Friend. The review would involve consultation with the relevant local authorities.
Mr. Chope: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how many planning appeals for developments with densities greater than the local planning authority considered reasonable have been allowed in each of the last three years. 
Mr. McNulty: Information on planning appeals in the form requested is not available. The table sets out for the last three years the number of allowed appeals for residential development where 'over-development' was recorded as an issue. Over-development encompasses a number of amenity concerns arising from the proposed layout.
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|Period||Number decided||Number allowed||Number allowed where over development was an issue|
Mr. McNulty: By Design and By Design: Better Places to Live are guides to better practice supporting Government policy on urban design and housing set out in Planning Policy Guidance Notes 1 and 3. They should be taken into account in preparing development plans and planning applications and may also be material to decisions on individual planning applications and appeals. My right. hon. Friend, the Deputy Prime Minister is a statutory consultee in the preparation of development plans and can make objections when there are conflicts with national guidance which do not appear to be justified by local circumstances. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister also has powers of intervention to direct that plan proposals should be modified before adoption.
Mr. Leslie: At the end of May 2002 when the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister was created, the Office employed three full-time equivalent special advisers. In November 2002 the Office employed 2.8 full-time equivalent special advisers.
Mr. Raynsford: The present SSA formula for Environmental, Protective and Cultural Services contains three housing deprivation indicators but none relates specifically to students. In addition, local authorities are compensated through revenue support grant for council tax income lost from properties that are exempt from council tax because they are occupied only by students.
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Mr. Hoban: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills if he will make a statement on the effectiveness of Beacon schools in raising school standards; what guidance he gives on the circumstances in which it is appropriate to close a beacon school and whom the authorities should consult; and how many beacon schools have been closed. 
Mr. Miliband: By building partnerships, Beacon schools have been supporting other schools to raise overall standards of pupil attainment and to close the gap between the best and lower performing schools. Independent evaluation has shown benefits of Beacon activity in terms of improved practice and raised standards through professional development. In the case of Beacon schools, as with all schools, the Department takes the view that closure is a matter for local public consultation and decision-making. The Department does not have a role in this process. So far, three Beacon schools have been closed as a result of local reorganisations.
Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what plans he has to provide assistance to schools to help them ensure that their course materials are accessible to disabled students in the next year. 
Mr. Ivan Lewis [holding answer 2 December 2002]: Schools and local education authorities are required to plan strategically to increase progressively over time the accessibility of schools to disabled pupils. This includes increasing access to schools premises and facilities, to the curriculum and to written information in alternative formatsincluding Braille and audio-tape. The first accessibility plans must be in place by April 2003 and will run for a period of three years.
Funding is available to local education authorities through the Schools Access Initiative to make schools more accessible to children with disabilities and special educational needs. £70 million is available this year. This will increase to £100 million a year for the next financial years 200304 to 200506.
Improving access to schools for disabled pupils is an integral part of local education authority planning and asset management and funds for improving school access are part of a much larger block of funds for capital expenditure of some £8.5 billion, which we are making available over the period 200102 to 200304.
Mr. Willis: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills if he will list the schools in the top 10 per cent. of those with the greatest number of children who receive free school meals. 
Mr. Miliband [holding answer 2 December 2002]: The information requested cannot be provided as it is the Department's current policy not to publish figures about individual schools without their prior agreement.
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Mr. Miliband: The Department is not currently undertaking research on this subject. Previous research has shown that there are a number of positive benefits for primary school pupils in mixed-age classes. These include the opportunity to form wider friendships and for younger pupils to learn from their contemporaries, more individualised teaching, and the opportunity for pupils with differing ability to provide intellectual stimulation for each other. The research does not find positive effects for attainment. However, there appears to be no negative impact on pupil attainment of what is known as vertical grouping. Teachers tend to be more negative about mixed-age classes, believing them to create more work and complicate classroom management.
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